Kenya's Moi Bows to Calls For Multiparty Elections
Threatened by a cutoff in aid from Western donors and renewed protests by domestic critics, Kenya's president reluctantly agrees to move toward reform
NAIROBI, KENYA — THE focus was on President Daniel arap Moi as he told several thousand party faithful on Dec. 3 that Kenya would soon have more than one political party.In the expensive, modern Kasarani Arena in the Moi Sports Complex where he spoke, there was an air of resignation about the president as he bowed to rapidly escalating domestic and international pressures for democratic reforms. Outside the arena, a young woman with a baby strapped on her back sold bananas from a green plastic bucket. Nearby, two teenage boys sat behind a pile of newspaper-wrapped packets of peanuts, selling them for the equivalent of three US cents each. Will the political reforms President Moi announced improve the lives of Kenya's poor, such as the young mother and the teenagers selling peanuts? Will those accusing Moi and his ministers of corruption and human rights abuses establish a more just and honest government if they win multiparty elections? These are some of the questions Kenyans and diplomats here are asking as Kenya becomes the latest African nation to adopt multiparty politics to replace a one- party system. "The power stems from the people," Moi told the party delegates in the arena. The truth of those words was evident, for this time it is not the power of Moi's party that has carried the day. As in the other African countries making reforms, it is the power of his critics demanding an end to detention of political opponents, an end to the ban on publications criticizing the government, an end to torture by police, and an end to the ban on opposition political rallies. A pro-multiparty rally in Nairobi on Nov. 16 was blocked by club-wielding police. But the fact that thousands of Kenyans tried to reach the rally site "shattered the myth that all was well," says Christopher Mulei, director of the Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists. Such a display of opposition, coupled with the six-month freeze Western donors put on new aid to Kenya on Nov. 26 pending political and economic reforms, apparently forced Moi to knuckle under to reformist and donor demands. "He's not convinced that this [multiparty politics] is best for the country, but his own political survival comes first," Mr. Mulei contends. But Western aid donors do not just want to see multiparty elections. United States Ambassador to Keyna Smith Hempstone says the pending adoption of multiparty elections is "a positive step.... But there are a lot more things that need to be done, and I'm sure will be done. I would hope they would launch a serious assault on corruption, and the next election, whenever it is held, is free and fair and is perceived to be so." Attorney Pheroze Nowrojee credits Moi with having the political courage to accept change. "He could have taken the route of [ex-Somalian dictator Mohamed Siad] Barre and [former Ethiopian Dictator] Mengistu Haile Mariam," Mr. Nowrojee says. Both men, deposed by rebels this year, held onto power until the last minute before fleeing, prolonging devastating civil wars in their countries. There was quick reaction to Moi's grudging acceptance of a multiparty system. "I think everyone's quite happy about it. They've been looking forward to this," says Peninnah Wohjoro, a secretary in Nairobi. "That's what should have been done two or three years ago," says Joseph Odero Jowi, a supporter of the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD), one of Keyna's opposition groups whose leaders are likely to form a new party. "As long as we have just one party, there will be no other to chase them around and make them accountable," says Mr. Jowi. Henry Maina Thairu, a retired primary school director and now owner of a small shop in rural, central Kenya, hopes the reforms will not only bring accountability but help Kenya's poor. "The people we have in the government have proved themselves to be - may I use the proper word - robbers," Mr. Thairu says. "People are suffering in very many ways. They can't afford school fees. And they are naked; they only have a tattered shirt, or one very dirty pair of trousers. [Some] don't even have shoes." But not everyone was happy with the change. A Nairobi taxi driver, who was reluctant to give his name, said he agrees with Moi that multiparty politics will bring multi-ethnic conflicts, with tribes forming competing parties. And at the sports arena, party delegate Abdul Rahman Bafadhil gave an impassioned and much-applauded speech stressing the need to continue under the Kenya African National Union (KANU), Kenya's sole party since 1982. Outside the arena, Mr. Bafadhil said Kenya's many tribes cannot hold together under multiparty politics. He blamed former colonial powers for drawing international boundaries that divided Africa's people. He blamed the hunger in Africa on the West's urging African nations to grow cash crops to earn hard currency in order to buy Western products. "We don't eat coffee," he said. But, he added, Moi will win the next election despite having more than one party. "KANU might lose in some areas in Nairobi, but out of the 42 districts, President Moi is going to win in the rural districts, which comprise almost 38," he said confidently. Moi's critics want an independent election commission set up to guarantee fair elections under the new multiparty system, which will become law as soon as Parliament votes its approval. The vote is expected soon.